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ICHIZEN Japan Restaurant

Pickled Mackerel Sashimi and the Shōchū

Updated: Aug 17, 2022


Homemade Pickled Mackerel Sashimi“Shime-Saba” In Japan

Between tradition and modernity, Japanese culture continues to fascinate while being elusive. This unique aspect ensures the originality of this country. During your stay in Japan, you will be able to taste various dishes. And if Japanese culture has been strongly influenced by China or Korea, it is nonetheless different. Japan has this ability to understand, integrate and assimilate what comes from abroad within its own culture. This whole complex remains fascinating with its various features and there are some Japanese habits and customs that still remain today.

Japan, this country of the “rising sun”, renowned for its culture and economic power, has a strong culinary tradition and many rites associated with the consumption of food. Food enthusiasts know that Japanese dishes are absolutely one of a kind and very special. Moreover, Japanese culinary culture has been listed as a World Heritage Site. Among so many other dishes, the one that comes to mind when we talk about Japanese cuisine, the best known but also the most typical, is sushi. And on this framework, we are going to offer you a special article that will not only cover the topic of sushi in general, but that will offer you one of the most popular Japanese recipes, which is Mackerel sashimi or what is known as “Shime-Saba”.

The tradition of sushi in Japan

It is a quintessential Japanese dish. The sushi tradition began in Southeast Asia. It was a technique for preserving raw fish. The fish was salted and put in a container with fermented rice, which prevented the fish from deteriorating. After going through a wave of evolution, these dishes now consist of vinegary rice mixed with different ingredients, depending on the shape and type of sushi, such as fish, vegetables, but also dried seaweed leaves known as Nori. On this framework, the sushi can be maki sushi, nigiri sushi, temaki sushi, and many more.

How to eat Sushi in Japan?

We can eat them with chopsticks, or directly by hand by grasping them delicately and they are eaten in one bite. Depending on the consumer, the sushi may or may not be dipped in soy sauce or wasabi which is a very spicy Japanese condiment, or both at the same time. It's a real mix of flavors in the mouth. Indeed, sushi, if it originated in Japan, has become a global dish. Today this delicious dish has become very popular especially in Western Europe and North America. However, it is always advisable to ensure the quality of the fish so as not to have any unpleasant surprises.

Sashimi Sushi

Sashimi is the creation of a Daizen-Shoku, the Emperor's chef, from the Nara period (710 to 794). Originally, we mainly used freshwater fish unlike today. It was during the Edo era (1600 to 1868) that sashimi really became a daily dish throughout Japan and since then it has spread around the world. Bites of fish most often raw, there is also vegetarian sashimi such as konnyaku made from bamboo and more rarely sashimi made from raw meat (beef, chicken or horse).

In addition to freshness, it's the way the fish is selected and cut that makes quality sashimi. The preparation, simple in theory, turns out to be an art in practice. Thus two pieces of sashimi from the same fish but cut by two different chefs will not taste the same. Also the quality of the sashimi varies according to the part of the fish used. In tuna, for example, the most popular parts are the fattier o-toro and chu-toro, taken from the lower part of the fish, while the more popular akami (red meat) comes from its back.

You can enjoy a myriad of some of the most sumptuous sashimi recipes, smoke and eat all kinds of delicious dishes at ICHIZEN. Its taste and its unique fondant make it a dish very appreciated by all and not only by fish lovers. It is most often eaten with soy sauce and wasabi. Not trying it on the pretext that it is raw fish would be a big mistake because sashimi is one of the most beautiful flavors that Japan can offer you.

Mackerel-Sashimi; Shime Baba

Mackerel has been a very popular fish in Japan since ancient times. It belongs to the species of the genus “Scomber” and “Rastrelliger”. In Japan, there are mainly four kinds of mackerel: Ma-saba, Goma-saba, Gurukuma and Nijô-saba. This type of fish expires very easily, so the blood should be removed and drained as soon as possible. In addition, its flesh is very fragile. Be careful not to break it while cooking. When it comes to the nutritious side, Mackerel is a very nutritious fish, rich in protein, iron, and vitamins B1 and B2. Like sardines and tuna, it contains a lot of Omega 3. Normally, mackerel in Japan is grilled, simmered, or fried.

Mackerel is used in sushi and sashimi by marinating it in vinegar. On the other hand, it is rarely eaten raw because of the risk of anisakis. If you don't have enough experience to cook this fish, it is recommended that you don't eat it raw. Mackerel or what is known as Saba (鯖) in Japanese language and the word shime (しめ) comes from the verb known as shimeru (しめる) that signifies to firm up the flesh of the meat or fish. Hence, we call shime-Saba a sour mackerel recipe from Japan. Making this recipe and preparing it is quite simple; indeed, the Mackerel fish is salted, and then marinated in rice vinegar infused with kombu seaweed.


The Shōchū

Appeared around the 16th century on the island of Kyushu in the south of the archipelago, shōchū is a traditional Japanese alcoholic drink, distilled from a fermented must and containing 25% to 43%. The basic ingredients most used for making Shōchū are rice, sweet potato, barley, wheat, buckwheat or sugar cane.

Shōchū can be classified into two categories: Honkaku shochu and Korui Shōchū.


To fall into this category, the shochu must have been distilled only once, which has the effect of retaining more richness and more flavors from the basic ingredients. Due to this unique distillation, Honkaku Shōchū has low alcohol content generally around 25% by volume. This category of shochu is the most appreciated in Japan, it counts among its ranks the best Shōchū of the archipelago, which are for the most part elaborated in an artisanal way in the purest Japanese tradition.


Unlike Honkaku, Korui Shōchū is distilled twice which will reduce the intensity of the aromas but also increase the volume of alcohol to around 38% and sometimes even up to 43%. Shōchūs falling into this category are often consumed as an ingredient in a cocktail.

Calories and nutrients in Shōchū:

In most cocktails, about 1.5-ounce serving of hard liquor can add about 100 calories to each drink, and this can be done before any juice, any tonic, or any simple syrup that is added. The same amount of Shōchū can only add no more than about 30 calories, so you will get savings of about 70 calories per drink. Indeed, Shōchū, this Japanese alcohol does not have calories like other alcohols.

The process of making shōchū:

Whether it is sweet potato, rice, or even barley, shochu will always follow the same development process, only the basic ingredient varies. The toji or master brewer, assisted by his kurabito, the assistant brewer, ensures that the operations run smoothly. Manufacturing begins with the preparation of a starter mash made from steamed rice seeded with a microscopic fungus called koji. This starter mash is then brewed with water, yeasts and the basic ingredient; then this basic mash is fermented and distilled once or twice depending on the category produced. The Shōchū is then put in clay jars called kame for a few months to rest.

Three stages are necessary for making Shōchū : Koji or preparation of the starting mash, Moromi or fermentation of the base mash and finally the distillation.

The Preparation of Koji, the Starter Must

The making of shochu always begins with the preparation of the koji or priming mash which will later be mixed with the base ingredient. By way of malting, the Japanese have been using for several hundred years a microscopic fungus, the koji-kin (aspergillius oryzae), which will transform complex sugars such as starch, contained in the basic ingredient, into simple sugars which will then be transformed into alcohol under the action of yeasts.

The koji-kin being a living organism, its use requires special precautions such as strict control of temperature and humidity in the room reserved for the preparation of the koji. After being gently cleaned and rinsed, the rice is steamed then cooled before being spread in the koji room. The toji sprinkles the rice with koji-kin spores and lets it sit for two days, during which the fungus will gradually transform the starch contained in the rice grains into fermentable sugars.

The role of koji-kin is essential in the process of developing flavors, several varieties of koji-kin are used by brewers depending on the geographical location of the brewery or the type of alcoholic beverage produced, some breweries even have their own strains of koji-kin cultivated and selected for their properties.

Throughout the preparation, the humidity of the rice grains is strictly controlled in order to obtain grains that are firm on the outside and tender on the inside. To better distribute the humidity and the heat released by the activity of the fungi, the rice is regularly mixed according to a ritual specific to each brewery. At the end of this stage, the koji has developed well in the rice and the toji then moves on to the next stage.

The preparation of moromi or must of Shōchū

Moromi is the basic ingredient fermented mash that will be distilled and give rise to Shōchū. Its preparation is carried out in three phases: the preparation of the preliminary moromi, the preparation of the basic ingredient and the fermentation of the moromi.

The preliminary moromi

This phase is actually the mixing of the koji with water and yeast. The glucose produced by the koji-kin is then transformed into alcohol, carbon dioxide and heat under the action of yeasts. The mixture must be fermented for 6 to 8 days to obtain the preliminary moromi and move on to the next phase.

Preparing the basic ingredient

Each Shōchū is associated with a basic ingredient that will determine the aromatic palette and the style of the future drink. While the preliminary moromi is fermenting, the brewery prepares the base ingredient, usually grown locally, which may be barley, sweet potato or buckwheat.

After being cleaned and cut into pieces, the ingredient is crushed and then poured into the preliminary moromi where, thanks to the koji, the fermentation of the mixture will begin.

The secondary moromi

The moromi is now ready for a second fermentation lasting 8 to 10 days during which the sugars will be transformed into alcohol by the yeasts. At the end of this second fermentation, the moromi contains around 15% of the volume, and is ready to be distilled.

The distillation

The moromi is loaded into the stills to begin the distillation during which the producer collects the precious distillate, called genshu, whose final alcohol content is around 25% of the volume.

At the end of this first distillation, the genshu of Honkaku Shōchū.

.is ready to be matured while to obtain a Korui shochu it is necessary to carry out a second distillation in order to raise the degree of alcohol to around 38% of the volume.

Aging and bottling

For Honkaku as for Korui Shōchū, the end of distillation signals the beginning of the maturation phase. The genshu is poured into large terracotta jars or barrels in which it will mature for a few months. It is also possible to age it for several years, the aged Shōchū is then aged for a minimum of three years. Aging can also take place in oak barrels called Mellow Kosuru which can then be given to whiskey producers for aging. After maturation, the Shōchū is filtered and then bottled with or without the addition of water to adjust the degree of alcohol. Cask strength shochu without the addition of water is called genshu.

How to drink shōchū?

In Japan, Shōchū is a popular traditional drink that is consumed on various occasions (aperitif, digestive or during the meal), and in various ways (dry, with ice cubes or diluted with sparkling water). It can also be used as a basic ingredient in a cocktail or even be consumed hot. Don’t hesitate to visit our restaurant, you will not only find sumptuous recipes that you will love, but you will also drinks and various dishes that you will love too. You can visit our website for more information:

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